There are three types of churches when it comes to their ‘relationship to power’: [1]

  • Messianic
  • Therapeutic
  • Prophetic

Messianic churches look for ‘help’ from outside the system. Whether it is the 2nd Coming of Christ or intercessory prayer, there is an expectation of an intervention (even salvation) from a source outside of (or beyond) the current order. This is often an unseen realm.

Therapeutic churches help you adjust to the system the way it is. These churches want to help you have your best life now. The priority is to help you be the best citizen you can be (at minimum) or to excel in your field so you can be an influential person within your networks.

Prophetic churches are looking to change the system. They want advocate for those on the margins and the disadvantaged. They utilize advocacy, community organizing, and protest to leverage those in power to change public policy and legislation toward justice and equality.

Here is where it gets more interesting:

Each of the primary expressions has a secondary emphasis … and an unfortunate neglected element.

Messianic churches (change from the outside) seem to have a therapeutic element where they help people to adjust to the system as it is while they wait for deliverance from above (or beyond). Unfortunately, these churches often neglect the prophetic aspect (changing the current system) because it seems like ‘rearranging deck chairs on the titanic’. There can be a resignation or ‘other-world-liness’[2] as a side-effect of this approach.

Therapeutic churches (helping you within the system) seem to have a prophetic element which focuses on issues of  ‘social-justice’ in order to change certain givens in the equation to variables that can be adjusted. Unfortunately, these churches often neglect the messianic component which believes that there are any resources available from outside the system (or established order). This can result in a generational (or personal) crisis that asks “who or what is it exactly that we believe in / pray to ? And what exactly are we hoping for here?”

Prophetic churches (changing the system) seem to have a messianic element which looks to a power ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ that will supply a needed element of transformation in order to bring justice and deliverance to those in need. Unfortunately, these churches can neglect the therapeutic component of religious belief and practice. This lack often leads to participants feeling worn-out or burned-out, depleted and discouraged. Hope in the messianic aspect, without the therapeutic, becomes even more vital.

When I present this in the seminary classroom I give examples of each:

  1. a Therapeutic/prophetic church (like I am at currently) that struggles with messianic spirituality because the ‘interventionist’ view of god seems problematic.
  2. a Prophetic/messianic church that does protest and ‘action’ but struggles with therapeutic spirituality because it is soft or too ‘me’ focused.
  3. Messianic/therapeutic church (like I use to be) that struggles with prophetic action because of ideas like the ‘2 kingdoms’ which has the spiritual realm (or kingdom of god) as over and above the kingdoms of this world.

Here is an introductory video. Please let me know you thoughts, examples, concerns, and questions.

[1] Power is alternatively known as: the ‘system’, the powers that be, the man, institutional power, and the status-quo, among other things.

[2] NoTW – ‘Not of This World’ is an odd consumer expression of passages like Romans 12:1-2, John 15:19, John 17:14 & 16, John 18:36, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 3:20-21, Ephesians 6:12, and 1 John 2:15-17.